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(8-29-19) When you ask Samantha Fledderjohann what she’d like to try in her new position as peer support/recreation specialist for Cheryl Ann Programs, the answer is simple: everything.

“We’re in a trial-and-error period right now.”

said Samantha, who hit the ground running in July.

But the only error may come from not trying. Samantha intends to offer activities for all ages, tastes and interests, and see what makes the most people the most engaged and happy.

“My goal is to offer new activities and options for the families of Mercer County who receive services, and maybe for some who don’t. Anything we offer would follow three guidelines: Does it promote inclusion? Does it promote the building of friendships? Does it promote independence?”

The goal is to increase recreation, leisure and learning opportunities for young people with disabilities, said Shawn Thieman, Cheryl Ann superintendent. That includes exploring ways for young people to get involved with local activities as well as Special Olympics, either as individuals or through league play.

Through her work, Fledderjohann will increase Cheryl Ann’s outreach and give young people with disabilities an avenue to the activities they most enjoy. “It’s time for us to be bigger than what we have been, to broaden our reach,” Thieman said. “We want to start meeting people in a different way, helping them connect with their communities. We are hoping this new initiative will serve many people.”

Possibilities include a hiking club, a fishing club, all kinds of athletics (golf, power-lifting, soccer, dance, yoga, basketball, track & field), and other clubs and classes, like a cooking class, a baking club, and a book club.

These and other activities will be organized with the help of the local community.

“Our goal is to find people in the community, to seek out volunteers, and ask them, ‘What can you offer that can change a child’s life, or even just a child’s day?’ As I get further into the job, one of my goals is to build a network called FANS (friends, allies and neighbors) of people who want to help make all this happen.”

Among that network, it will be important to include young people who are willing to spend time and get to know children and young adults with developmental disabilities.

“The first part of my title is peer support, and that’s really important. Our kids with developmental disabilities could really benefit from being with kids who don’t have the same issues. And kids without disabilities benefit from being around kids who do. They learn from each other.”

Fledderjohann, an Auglaize County native who lives in New Bremen, has a lot of connections in Mercer and Auglaize Counties already. She formerly worked for Catholic Social Services and is the varsity track coach at New Knoxville High School.

“There are a lot of good people in our area, and I am hoping they will be excited about getting involved.”

(If you have an idea for events or activities for people with developmental disabilities, or a facility that they could use, or would like to volunteer, please contact Samantha Fledderjohann at 419-586-2369 or sfledderjohann@mercerdd.org.)